"Because you dreamed it, big man. Because you dreamed it."
The premiere of Deep Throat was held at New York's World Theater on June 12, 1972, and the smutty gala is really the only logical place for David Simon and George Pelecanos' initial eight episode run of The Deuce to conclude. As Linda Lovelace ascends those red-carpeted stairs, the flash of multiple bulbs popping as photographers snap her photo, C.C. (Gary Carr) battles with a bouncer who won't let him and Lori (Emily Meade) pass into the VIP area. It's the perfect visual metaphor for where this season was headed the entire time - taking the sex trade out of the grimy gutters and placing it up on the silver screen. In Episode Eight - sadly titled "My Name Is Ruby" (for reasons we'll get into here in a second) - we find out that sex is now going to sell to a mass audience, while simultaneously killing those left on the streets.
“Every day this thing takes another step out of the forest,” Harvey Wasserman (David Krumholtz) says to Eileen/Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal) following their rather interesting meeting with a Virginia Beach housewife (and adult bookstore owner) who's recently driven up to NYC in the hopes of starring in her own porno. It's a mind-blower to Harvey that these skeevy little fuck films they're shooting would ever make it out of Times Square, let alone travel down the coast and inspire a dainty Miss Molly like the one they just met. On top of that, Harvey shows Eileen a VIP invitation to an X-rated movie premiere at a general admission theater - the aforementioned New York's World - and both are in awe that such an event could even exist. Yet by the summer of '72, the whole of America was in the state of a constant wet dream. The Sexual Revolution was starting to become mainstream, and hidden desires were no longer relegated to the closets.
However, with any major advancement, the most pertinent question will always be: who profits? Of course Mayor John Lindsay helped usher along indoor cat houses like the ones backed by gangster Rudy Pipilo (Michael Rispoli), and run by Vincent Martino (James Franco) along with his brother-in-law Bobby (Chris Bauer). The peep shows have now been transformed into peep booths, thanks to a rudimentary sketch from Hi-Hat strongman Big Mike (Mustafa Shakir), that's also been put into place by Pipilo and collected on by Vincent's brother, Frankie (also Franco). Wasserman is obviously on the brink of breaking out, and is going to take Eileen - who finally gets to shoot her first movie after Harvey's car breaks down, leaving her in charge - along with him for the ride. It's a mixture of previously rooted power and chameleon-esque adaptation, those who are able to roll with the cultural punches sure to have a big future as progress continues its steady march forward.
The flipside to that coin will always be: who does progress shut its doors on? In this case it's going to be the pimps and the hookers who remain in the trade's antiquated form. Besides C.C. realizing and being frustrated by his own obsolescence, Larry Brown (Gbenga Akinnagbe) wonders out loud if there's anything to life beyond the cars, and the clothes and these dirty avenues. He's got a scheme cooked up with his bottom bitch, Barbara (Kayla Foster), sending her into a hotel to buy a brick and letting her walk away in handcuffs, unwilling to give up her man's name to save her own ass. Leon's diner is practically empty by the end of the hour, as Larry sits alone, pining for the woman he probably loved, but will now never know, as constant exploitation of her sex has led him to this vacant pie bar.
The most tragic victim is Thunder Thighs (Pernell Walker), who's still working under the marquees as Eileen rides by on her way to Deep Throat, calling her name from a taxi (but the greeting gets lost in a wave of the usual 42nd Street racket). Her next trick will be her last, as an unsatisfied john goes through her purse. Not willing to give up the nights' wages, the working girl confronts him, and he scoffs at the hooker with a "see ya later Thunder Thighs". "My name is Ruby," she replies - the declaration an act of defiance that gets her shoved out a window and splattered onto the pavement. While another rock and roll show jams out at the bars below, a prostitute falls to her death, only to become a piece of faceless trash for the boys in blue to scrape off the blacktop. Ruby's just another casualty of the life, while the industry is booming.
The morality of this microcosm isn't lost on Vincent, who really just wants to be a barman, move in with Abby (Margarita Levieva), and let Rudy run the parlor without his input. He wants nothing to do with this budding enterprise, and snaps on his family and friends, telling them to go fuck themselves when Rudy unveils his latest grand scheme: a sort of super sex arena, complete with peep booths. All this fucking and sucking has made Vincent cold, to the point that he's able to shrug Ruby's death off when she's stretched out in a pile of glass in front of his bar, causing Abby to reconsider just who the hell it is she's laying her head down next to at night.
Where The Wire ran up the ladder of power to City Hill, ace reporter Sandra Washington (Natalie Paul) has her story on the streetwalkers gutted when it comes to the corruption angle, as her editor needs sources and documents in order for the lawyers to clear her paper to run it. Officer Alston (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) doesn't want to be a source, rather desiring to be Sandra's lover. But even after Sandra talks the flatfoot into lifting a collections log from a local "meat-eater" in his precinct, his Captain (Ed Moran) lets him know that the easiest way toward earning a detective's shield is keeping their mess in house, to be cleaned up by fellow cops. No need to cause a scene in public when there are rewards to handling business in private.
Because, after all, the dream may have been achieved, but it's still mostly a dream concocted and controlled by men. What truly marks The Deuce as being a work of superlative artistic dissection is the fact that Simon and Pelecanos never lose sight of how exploitation operates from the top down. As long as the big wigs and power brokers profit, it doesn't matter if a few eggs get cracked. If some low level players figure out a way to tag along and make a buck for themselves, more love to them. In the end, the sex industry is going to continue to operate out in the open until enough objections are heard, or there aren't any more dollars coming into the till. The Revolution will be projected on celluloid, and it's only just begun.